Cape Town - 100512 - Faiza Saliem who has been smoking for the last 40 years doesn't think she will quit smoking even though the MJC have decided that cigarettes are not halaal. Photo: Matthew Jordaan

South Africa needs to make quitting smoking a medical condition and treat tobacco dependency as a chronic condition if it is to ease the burden of smoking-related illnesses on the healthcare system, says a Stellenbosch University pulmonologist.

Professor Chris Bolliger said while SA had excellent tobacco control legislation to govern pricing, bans on public smoking and advertising, accepting that tobacco dependency was a long-term illness would encourage smokers to acknowledge the effects of smoking on their health.

It would also go a long way in achieving successful clinical outcomes.

Bolliger, also director of the university’s Respiratory Research Unit, is one of the co-authors of guidelines on smoking cessation in Africa and the Middle East.

Published this week in the international pulmonology journal, Respiration, the consensus draft guidelines for healthcare providers, explores smoking prevention, cessation, and the effects of smoking on populations of the two regions.

The authors argue that as smokers continue to smoke for many years and go through multiple attempts to quit, tobacco dependency should share the status of other chronic illness with effective treatment given for as long as necessary.

They suggest that treatment strategies should be tailor-made for individuals and include intensive strategies such as counselling and medication, or prescription of more than one type of medication.

Bolliger said while SA should be commended for upholding some of WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommendations that discouraged tobacco use, the country lagged behind in the provision of support programmes for those looking to quit.

While 22 percent of South Africans smoked, Bolliger said programmes for quitting remained sporadic and informal, mostly run by doctors without anti-smoking counselling skills.

“There is only a handful of tobacco cessation experts…” he said.

Many smokers, he said, continued to smoke not because they were unaware of the health risks, but simply because they were addicted.

- Cape Argus